Caring for Wild Birds in Winter

The wintery weather is starting to set in and we've made sure we are ready in the house, sweeping the chimney, serving the boiler and stocking up with hearty winter food. Maybe you've even bought your dog a warm winter coat or a snuggly new bed for the cat? But what about the wild birds outside? What can you do to help them?

Robin on logs:Photo by David Boca on Unsplash

Providing a fresh supply of water for birds to drink and bathe in is crucial, especially in colder months when some natural water supplies freeze over. But how can you stop the water you supply freezing? 

First of all, the more water there is, the less likely it is to freeze so put out a decent amount in your bird bath. Check it every morning and break any ice or add hot (not boiling) water. Drinking freezing water can affect a bird's health and can slow its responses leaving it vulnerable to predators. Makes sense really - I know drinking cold water on a cold day leaves me feeling chilly.

Add a black liner or some dark coloured rocks to your bird bath which will retain some heat from any winter sun. A stone which is higher than the water level will help stop the water freezing completely and will give your feathery friends a perch too. Or add a tennis or ping pong ball to the water which also helps the entire surface freezing over.

Supporting the birds with additional food during cold weather is very important. As natural habitats shrink or disappear altogether wild birds and other creatures find it increasingly difficult to forage for food independently. In winter there are fewer daylight hours for them to look for food and the ground is often too hard for them to dog out worms and 

Buy wild bird food and keep ground and hanging feeders and bird tables well stocked with fresh food at all times. Even people with no garden space can feed birds with all sorts of feeders which hang or can be stuck with suckers to an outside window. If you sit quietly you can enjoy watching birds helping themselves to your kind offerings.

Wild birds on bird table in snow:Photo by Lidia Stawinska on Unsplash

Birds need protein and fat so along with bread crumbs feed your local birds with good quality seed, fat balls/blocks and maybe some grated cheese and raisins which will ensure that all kinds of birds can stay healthy and survive even the worst weather.

Apples, plums and pears halved also are good to leave out with plenty of energy giving natural sugars and a high water content. Oil up some logs to create an area birds can hunt for insects.

Always remove food from feeders if it gets wet as soggy offerings are both unappetising and likely to go rotten or mouldy. Wash all feeders once a week to keep them clean and hygienic.

Why not turn off the TV once in a while and use a book or online guide to birds to see who is visiting your garden? Getting to know your regular visitors will help you tailor your food offerings and diversify to attract even more wild breeds to your garden.